Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Bishop of Norwich's "blacklist"

Updated Wednesday morning

The following statement has appeared on the Church of England website today [Tuesday].

Statement in relation to weekend press reports

24 June 2014

“The recent press report that the Bishop of Norwich has been asked to keep a blacklist of clergy who marry same sex partners is untrue. The House of Bishops agreed in February to establish a small informal monitoring and reference group which is available to diocesan bishops who may wish for information or advice. The group has no formal powers. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York asked the Bishop of Norwich to chair the group and for the Bishops of Sheffield and Willesden to be members.”

That is the complete text.

Update

David Pocklington has written about this at Law & Religion in Marriage of clergy to same-sex partners. As he had explained earlier:

Permission to Officiate is issued under Canon C 8 (3) entirely at the discretion of the bishop, creates no employment-like rights, and can be withdrawn at the absolute discretion of the bishop without the need for a disciplinary process. In contrast, Canon Pemberton is employed as Deputy Senior Chaplain with the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust in the diocese of Lincoln, under the Extra-Parochial Ministry Measure 1967, for which he holds a licence from the Bishop of Lincoln. However, although employed by the hospital, that employment is generally dependent upon the Bishop’s licence which can only be terminated following a disciplinary process, s8(2) Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. No public announcement has been made regarding this licence.

And he now comments:

The CofE statement has been greeted with scepticism by some of those commenting on the Thinking Anglican report of the announcement. Against such concerns, however, it would be unusual if the Church had not established a group to monitor developments in a sensitive area such as this, and would be subject to criticism if it did not adopt a consistent approach in the interpretation of the House of Bishops Statement of Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage: there is a degree of uncertainty in the sanctions that may be applied under ecclesiastical law and a further degree of complexity is added through the range of possible employment situations as these current examples demonstrate.

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Comments

Still sounds like a blacklist process to me, in fact it's even worse as more people are involved.

No formal powers, therefore they can't transgress anything. And just what are they going to discuss - 'the weather'? - no they will discuss in detail those naughty clergy and what to do with them

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:20pm BST

No blacklist, just the Inquisition ........

And who said Monty Python was about to give its last performance ........

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:21pm BST

Hasn't there been a Lambeth Black List for decades containing the names of those who haven't a hope in Hell of ever being consecrated bishop?

Posted by: Father David on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:30pm BST

My story has been corrected accordingly. I did further ask whether bishops were obliged or expected to consult with this group when cases came up in their dioceses and was told: “Bishops have been encouraged to keep the group informed but there is no obligation”

So not an actual blacklist, but presumably records are kept of who consults them and about which cases.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:33pm BST

That sounds like a yes to me.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:36pm BST

"The group has no formal powers." Information is power in the C of E, especially the so-called 'soft information' being shared over the telephone between bishops, which can never be inspected (and therefore corrected) in a blue file. This statement could have come from the Ministry of the Interior at the Kremlin. It's interesting that the Bishop of Norwich (whom we assume to be on the side of the angels?) has been provided with two evangelical minders.

Posted by: James A on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:49pm BST

"We don't have a formal blacklist, we just have an informal one."

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:57pm BST

To (almost) coin a phrase - ' lies, damn lies, and Church of England statements'.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 5:33pm BST

"The House of Bishops agreed in February to establish a small informal monitoring and reference group which is available to diocesan bishops who may wish for information or advice."

Well they were hardly likely to call it a 'blacklist'* were they? And this mealy-mouthed church-speak reads precisely like the definition of a 'blacklist' to me.

Are we seriously expected to believe, then, that this 'informal monitoring' of clergy entering same-sex marriages and the 'information' and 'advice' given to diocesan bishops is to be used for anything other than barring said clergy from appointments? Even if one chooses to take a charitable view of the intention of this 'monitoring', that is what it will be used for.

*Over 30 years ago, the word 'blacklist' was replaced by 'warning list' in high-street banking to avoid racist connotations. But this is the word used in the Church's statement.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 5:34pm BST

I would like to point out that the Bishop of Sheffield handled questions about the Pilling process at General Synod in February very sensitively.

It was the bishop's sensitivity over the questions that cause me to feel so shocked by the HoB's statement produced two days later. It was as though the Bishop of Sheffield and the rest of the House of Bishops belonged to completely different planets.

Posted by: Susan Cooper on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 5:34pm BST

And in great news for ordinands, Sheffield is chair of the Ministry Division (MinDiv).

Posted by: Dan BD on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 5:42pm BST

There is, technically, no suggestion in the statement that actual names be mentioned in such consultations...

Posted by: Charles Read on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 6:25pm BST

So the church's gayfinder generals are a liberal and two open evangelicals passionate about women's ministry. Does anyone still wish to claim that the church's institutional homophobia is a conservative problem?

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 6:36pm BST

Just to point out, in light of comment above, CofE statement merely quotes newspaper use of 'blacklist' rather than using the word itself.

Posted by: Steve Jenkins on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 7:40pm BST

There is nothing here about a blacklist at all. What the HofB has set up is a group of three bishops who will monitor what is going on and provide advice to bishops who find they need it. This is actually really very sensible indeed and may provide for a softening of extreme reactions and a semblance of common practice across the nation.

I am grateful for the clarification - I asked for it on Thinking Anglicans yesterday and the CofE Press Office provided it today!

Posted by: Wilf on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 7:41pm BST

The informality of the group and its powers makes this worse, not better. This informality means that we don't what information this group monitors and who refers to it.

Informally enumerated power is often weakly limited power. One can reasonably surmise, however, that the Group's powers are sufficient to destroy livelihoods and its role is maintain a central list of clergy who are married to people of the same gender.

Creepy does not even begin to describe this.

This is a group whose existence wasn't announced, which has only been acknowledged because Andrew Brown got hold of the story, which meets sub-rosa, whose announcement was bet with a press statement from Church House Westminster which seems to have been designed to obfuscate.

Shame on Graham James for having any part of this. I can think of only one rational explanation. The liberal faction on the House of Bishops seems to be lingering under a misapprehension that it has meaningful influence anymore, which it doesn't, and that it can moderate the most homophobic utterances of the House in toto, which it can't.

Tim Stevens was under that illusion when he fronted the House of Bishops' anti-marriage equality campaign. He was wrong, and has destroyed his reputation in the process. The same moral pit awaits James.

Posted by: The Rev'd Mervyn Noote on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 8:04pm BST

" So not an actual blacklist, but presumably records are kept of who consults them and about which cases " - Andrew Brown
Potentially this could be a win win situation for the Archbishops - they get to find out about errant clergy from those bishops who "consult " the monitoring and reference group, and over time it will become apparent which bishops prefer to keep their own counsel and will themselves need to be " monitored " for potentially subversive inactivity. Result !

Posted by: Salopian on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 8:18pm BST

"A small informal monitoring and reference group which is available... for information or advice." It reminds me of a poster, dating from the 1970s, which you see as you go in to the former Stazi headquarters in Berlin. It similarly reassures with the words "You Have Nothing To Fear From Us"!

Posted by: Simon R on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 8:24pm BST

As far as I know there are not two 'open' evangelicals on this reference group. The Bishop of Willesden may be in favour of women bishops but he is definitely against same-sex marriage.

Also as the group is 'informal' it has no accountability and may well blight the careers of a number of good priests.

Posted by: Observer on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 8:31pm BST

Oh! So, it's a Blacklist Committee. That's a relief. Are these people for real? Just keep digging deeper, guys. There must be a bottom there, somewhere.

Posted by: Karen MacQueen on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 8:39pm BST

"Heavens, no! We aren't blacklisting anyone on our blacklist. We just want to advise those particular clergy of appropriate prelude and postlude organ music for their ceremonies."

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 8:44pm BST

It might be quite interesting for clergy who are considering or have contracted a same-sex marriage to serve a Data Protection Act "subject access request" on the Church of England, citing the existence of this committee (Data Protection Act 2003, S.7(1)).

It might also be extremely interesting for such a member of the clergy to serve a Data Protection Act S.10 notice on the Church of England (damage or distress caused by processing).

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 9:19pm BST

One thing I have observed about the C of E over the years is that everything is kept vague, as a result, there is no clear accountability and things and people can more easily be exploited. It is a very destructive way of working which attempts to keep power in the hands of those at the top.

Posted by: sjh on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 10:16pm BST

When I wrote DPA 2003, I was obviously deranged. Data Protection Act 1998, I meant.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 10:30pm BST

"[A] small informal MONITORING and REFERENCE group...."

This is meant to reassure? Really?

Does anyone in the CofE read these statements before they are put out?

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 12:43am BST

A gray list, perhaps?

How does one know if one is on it or not?

Is there any way to challenge being on the list, any recourse?

Who gets to see it?

Is there a Star Chamber? A way to make secret denunciations?

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 12:47am BST

I would be grateful if someone could shed light on why church leaders did not try to amend the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act to avoid the present situation. I think that is a fascinating mystery. I can think of three possibilities:

A. They were so lacking in foresight that they didn't anticipate that priests would want to marry.

B. They assumed that it would be easy to discipline priests who marry.

C. They realized that Parliament (and society at large) wouldn't cooperate to stop priests from marrying or to discipline priests who marry.

Posted by: Chris S on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 2:38am BST

It might also be extremely interesting for such a member of the clergy to serve a Data Protection Act S.10 notice on the Church of England (damage or distress caused by processing).

Thank you for that, Interested. Can you expand a little on what such a notice is, and what you believe would be achieved?

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 2:53am BST

It's a very sad and defensive little press release. The situation is damaging to relationships and relationships are what the Church is all about. What's also astonishing is that the House of Bishops took this decision in February and didn't even communicate that decision clearly to bishops who are not members of the house. A friend who is a suffragan told me he had no knowledge of this.
The whole situation does the Church of England a disservice and bridges need to be rebuilt.

Posted by: Sound on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 6:54am BST

Edward, if the CofE is maintaining a list of clerics "of interest" or "of concern" then that falls under the Data Protection Act. Maintaining a list of people with information about their sexuality is "sensitive personal data" by S.2(f) "his sexual life". Maintaining a list of people with information about their views on equal marriage in the Church of England is "sensitive personal data" by S.2(c) "religious beliefs or other beliefs of a similar nature".

S.10 reads as follows:

(start quote)
Subject to subsection (2), an individual is entitled at any time by notice in writing to a data controller to require the data controller at the end of such period as is reasonable in the circumstances to cease, or not to begin, processing, or processing for a specified purpose or in a specified manner, any personal data in respect of which he is the data subject, on the ground that, for specified reasons—

(a)the processing of those data or their processing for that purpose or in that manner is causing or is likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress to him or to another, and

(b)that damage or distress is or would be unwarranted.
(end quote)

Maintaining a blacklist of clergy who have had or are contemplating same-sex marriages clearly passes test (a), and test (b) is at least arguable. Because the data is "sensitive personal data" it is by definition "personal data".

The exception in subsection (2) is a pointer to Schedule 2, and there is the slight possibility of an argument that S.10 does not apply in this case on the basis that the processing is Sch.2(2)(a) "necessary...for the performance of a contract to which the data subject is a party" (specifically, their contract of employment). I don't know if there's case law; I don't believe so, but I'm not a litigator. It would be for a court, considering S.10(4), to decide if that's the case if the CofE refused to accede to the initial request.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 7:30am BST

"I would be grateful if someone could shed light on why church leaders did not try to amend the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act to avoid the present situation"

I realise that in fact, it's likely King Knut put his throne in the way of the rising tide to prove to his courtiers that he could not hold back the waves, not because he thought he could.

However, the metaphor of the deluded leader who believes his can halt irresistible forces is a useful one.

Welby believed that he could stop same sex marriage, so had no particular need to worry about the terms on which it would be legalised.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 7:56am BST

Simon, how am I - a member of the "inferior clergy" expected to know about the existence of the Bishop of Norwich's informative and advisory group if, according to Sound, not even all the bishops knew of the existence of such a group? Are we becoming more and more like a Secret Society or should I have invested in a cyrstal ball when I attended the Glastonbury Pilgrimage last Saturday?

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 8:45am BST

David Pocklington's citing of the House of Bishops' data protection policy is fascinating. It authorises sharing of personal data about clergy between bishops "(a) for the prevention or detection of any unlawful act or (b) for the protection of the public against dishonesty, malpractice, or other seriously improper conduct by, or the unfitness or incompetence of, that priest or deacon or another person".

(a) Clearly doesn't apply: marrying is legal. Arguing (b) that a member of the clergy availing themselves of same-sex marriage is "seriously improper" or constitutes "unfitness or incompetence" seems a very high threshold.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 8:46am BST

I don't believe Croft (Sheffield) will act dishonourably. If he does, then I will change my view of him, but I don't expect to have to. I'm sure Charles Read will agree with me on this.

Posted by: John on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 10:07am BST

With regard to those clergy who may be concerned, are they entitled to enquire or to know if their names are on the Bishop of Norwich's "little list".

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 11:38am BST

On reflection, and for what it's worth, I think the comments in the Law and Religion blog are perfectly fair. If the bishops have a policy, however stupid or wrong it may be, they ought to keep an eye on how it is working. That needs a committee tasked with doing so.

Whether this is used subsequently as a blacklist is another question. To suppose that it will be implies either a complete uniformity of policy or no change in the line after the famous facilitated conversations are through. Or both. That last seems unlikely to me. In which case we have a kind of zebra list.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 9:49pm BST

Perhaps a request under the Freedom of Information Act?

Posted by: Paul on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 9:55pm BST

And here we are, in the Anglican Church in the South Pacific, think that the days of Witch-Smellers Persuivant were long gone! Even WE don't eat people any more. Oh for a season of openness to flourish in the Church - rather than an extension of hypocrisy!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 11:53pm BST

'there is a degree of uncertainty in the sanctions that may be applied under ecclesiastical law'

It is very strange and inconsistent that the Supreme Govenor of the Church of England having signed into law the marriage act, that her bishops should be arguing and acting against her express intent.

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 3:47am BST

'I don't believe Croft (Sheffield) will act dishonourably. If he does, then I will change my view of him, but I don't expect to have to. I'm sure Charles Read will agree with me on this.'

Posted by: John on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 10:07am BST

I find it strange and irritating that people write as above, and then sign 'John' and nothing else. It would be true of any single first name, but of 'John' more than most due to its popularity.

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 3:51am BST

May I ask just what is supposed to happen if the government chooses to discontinue civil partnerships? (It isn't a course I advocate - allowing couples to choose between civil marriage or union seems to work fine in Québec, New Zealand, France, and South Africa for example - but I was under the impression that the fate of CPs in Britain, or at least England & Wales, remained undecided).

Posted by: Geoff on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 5:56am BST

As Andrew Brown says, the role of the Group is to advise. Only the Diocesan/Area Bishop with whom the priest holds licence or PTO has the role of pastoral care and discipline in relation to that priest (or another bishop in the Diocese to whom discipline has been delegated under the Clergy Discipline Measure).

@Paul - the CofE isn't a public body within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act.

Posted by: Pete Broadbent on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 7:42am BST

Andrew Brown says this is fair.
Hmmmmm.

I would say there is a hazy line between a monitoring group and a compliance committee, the sense here is that we have the second.
The lack of transparency makes the Church look devious, the sense here is that it is.
Fairness comes with equity and I might still be persuaded that the CofE HofB is not a brood of vipers if the recent decision to outlaw membership of some lawful political parties was accompanied by the formation of a similar committee, the sense here would be quite different if that were the case.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 8:14am BST

"Perhaps a request under the Freedom of Information Act?"

The Church of England is not subject to the FoI Act, and in any event FoI cannot be used to obtain personally identifiable information. As I said earlier, the correct path is a Data Protection Act subject access request.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 8:19am BST

A question at General Synod about the intention involved in setting up this group and details of its remit is likely to be more effective at this stage than any FOI or other request asking for details of a list. I suspect that every regular reader of Thinking Anglicans could make a list (currently very short). Marriage is a public act, after all.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 8:39am BST

You're easily irritated, Laurie.

John Moles.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 9:04am BST

I'm very grateful that +Pete, who writes clearly above, and other wise and experienced colleagues, stand ready to help me reflect on the exercise of my responsibilities in what could be new and testing circumstances.

But outside of this site I have heard no mention of a list, nor can conceive of circumstances in which I would want to have access to any such list, or to add names onto one.

Posted by: David Walker on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 11:25am BST

I see my question has already been mooted by this morning's announcement. I'm disappointed that civil partnerships are not to be made available to all couples.

Posted by: Geoff on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 4:05pm BST

Oh, +David, thank God for you.

Posted by: Dan BD on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 6:07pm BST

Over on his blog, Colin Coward claims,

"[The Bishop of Manchester] has shown that the members of the House of Bishops were not told about the existence of the “informal monitoring and reference group which is available to diocesan bishops who may wish for information or advice.”

I can't see where he gets that idea from. Bishop Walker very clearly was not aware of "a list", but since the CofE have denied that such a list exists that isn't a surprise. But perhaps Bishop Walker can confirm that he *did* know about the group and dampen down Colin Coward's conspiracy theory?

Posted by: Peter Ould on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 9:43pm BST

Indeed I did know about the group, Peter, and am grateful for its existence.

As you say, it is the suggestion of some sort of list that perplexes me. I wonder whether the word "monitoring" has been taken to imply that it is individuals that are being monitored, when in fact the object of the verb is the developing situation.

Thanks for drawing my attention to this, so that I can clarify. And sorry if that spoils anyone's conspiracy theory.

Posted by: David Walker on Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 11:43pm BST

Presumably the only real advice this monitoring group can give is based on what has happened so far. In the cases that we know about (the only ones that have made the press, but there could well be others): PtO is easily removed if that is what a bishop chooses to do; a licence has not been revoked for this offence against the CDM. Instead a rebuke is the penalty.
It seems, that on case law as the basis, issuing a rebuke is what will happen in the case of clergy marrying same sex partners. That seems relatively good news doesn't it?

Posted by: Sound on Friday, 27 June 2014 at 7:58am BST

Are we able to find out who is chairing the monitoring group on membership of proscribed political parties?

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 27 June 2014 at 8:44am BST

'I wonder whether the word "monitoring" has been taken to imply that it is individuals that are being monitored, when in fact the object of the verb is the developing situation.'

So glad that is cleared up. The "developing situation" does not involve any "individuals." Ergo....

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 27 June 2014 at 11:28am BST

David, thanks for clarifying that you did know about the group and that it's the list that was perplexing you.

Although the Church of England website doesn't say so, can we assume that the informing and referencing which the group is making available to bishops who may wish for information and advice is indeed in relation to clergy who marry a same sex partner?

The rumours and confusion have arisen because the Church of England doesn't understand that good communication to those affected by any initiative is fundamental. In this instance, information should have been made available not only to the House of Bishops but to lesbian and gay clergy and ordinands and those testing a vocation, the people who are directly affected together with bishops.

The staff at Church House are to blame for not communicating the creation of the group in the first place and then for allowing rumours to develop. I take responsibility for not having written to Church House as soon as I heard the first rumour and asked for a clear statement about the intention of the group. But I'm part of this dysfunctional body as well. I get sucked into the conspiracy theories and the secrecy. It would be so much better if we trusted people with information, truth and clarity.

Posted by: Colin Coward on Friday, 27 June 2014 at 12:09pm BST

I think I've cracked it at last! If the HofB really want to lay down the (their) law, it is printed in BOLD TYPE, so no one can be in ANY DOUBT. (Except the doubters who issue mealy-mouthed 'but I didn't really go along with it etc.) If they want to obfuscate, (not really a verb) they talk about 'informally monitoring and referencing' and 'no formal powers' and 'more than one member of the LGBTI community' being involved (two, three, twenty??) As they are so vague as to how many people will be in the groups having 'facilitated conversations' [another one!] talking about at least one or more than one is completely meaningless.
They are not being vague, they are being deliberately evasive. Little things get slipped into their edicts that I can't recall anyone ever agreeing to. There was the bit in Canon B30 about clergy 'and their families' adhering to a certain standard of Christian behaviour. I don't remember ever signing up to that, and it would have certainly have come as news to my then wife and daughters. (Incidentally, two fine upstanding young women, aged 27 and 22, who don't agree on much, but are united in their loathing of the CofE's foot-dragging on women's ministry and attitude to gay people.
But before I'm 'informally monitored' I'm already resigned and retired!

Posted by: Stephen Morgan on Friday, 27 June 2014 at 4:06pm BST

"They are not being vague, they are being deliberately evasive."

So true. Unclear language often hides an unclear policy--or worse, a vision that everyone would disagree with.

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 29 June 2014 at 11:37am BST
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